Real Roles: Andrew Smiler

1. What’s your name? Where do you live? How old are you?

My professional name is Andrew Smiler, and my married name is Andrew Irwin-Smiler. I started publishing in 2003 and got married in 2008, at which point my sweetie and I took each other’s names. I continue to use my pre-married (maiden?) name professionally.

I live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and I celebrated my 44th birthday in 2012.

2. Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?

I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. I’m the youngest of three kids, the only child of my mother’s second marriage, and there’s a gap of about 10 years between me and my older siblings. My parents were divorced when I was 7 and my stepfather was a part of my life since I was 10, although I never called him that and he never married my mother. 

I grew up in an upper-middle class community with very good schools and a clear expectation that I would attend college. In most ways, I was just like my friends, although I was also aware that I was the only one in my group who had a divorced parent and lived in a rented apartment.

3. How would you describe your current family and close support community?

I live with my sweetie and our daughter. In addition to several good friends in town that we spend time with, I’ve also maintained good contact with several folks from other places I’ve lived. Face-to-face calling and conferencing has been very helpful with that.

4. What are some of the things you do on an average day?

Like most parents, most of my time is spent at work and with my daughter. I also listen to a lot of music, and my library ranges from swing-era big bands to rock/pop. I try to maintain a regular yoga practice and I’ve started running this past year. I also read fiction.

5. What do you do to pay the bills?

I’m a university professor and author. I like teaching because it allows me to interact with other people and get their perspective on life. It also gives me an opportunity to tell/show them things they might not otherwise have noticed and introduce them to perspectives they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. And because my classrooms are interactive, I get the same thing back from them.

I also do original research, which lead to my book Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male. Original research—the stuff that goes in to the library—intrigues me. I’ve always liked figuring things out, and conducting research is one way to do that.

6. Does your life look like what you imagined it would when you were young?

Probably not, but I’m not sure what I imagined it would be. An astronaut, perhaps.

7. What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your life?

I think the greatest challenge for me has been one of repeatedly making large adjustments. I’m fortunate enough to have never experienced a significant injury. Although my parents are deceased, those deaths were the result of ongoing illnesses and declining health typical of older age, so they weren’t exactly a surprise, although they were hard. 

I think the biggest challenge was a two-year span in which I got married, we moved twice (cross-country into an apartment, then again into a house we purchased), my daughter was born, and my mother died. I like to think I’m pretty good with change, but that was an overwhelming set of changes in a fairly short time, and each of them had a real impact on both my day-to-day activities and my sense of who was important to me.

8. Have you made any decisions or choices that have surprised those around you?

I think the most surprising decision I ever made was the choice to go back to school for a PhD at age 30. I applied without telling anyone other than my parents. I had a good career as a family therapist and owned a house. When I got accepted—at the last minute—it meant moving 400 miles away, liquidating and selling my house, and ending my therapy career.

9. Who have you looked to for inspiration while creating your life? What have they taught you?

My mother taught me to dream big and my stepfather taught me the value of hard work. Many, many people have taught me the importance of finding balance in my life and how difficult it can be to keep that balance.

10. What TV shows, movies, music, or books have been particularly formative or important in your life?

I was a teen in the 1980s, so that should give you some idea: Star Wars and Indiana Jones for movies, and a range of musical artists that includes disco, pop, and hard rock (long live the power ballad!). My mother was a lifelong fan of Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and Barbara Streisand, so even my rock and popular music tastes have always pulled for strong vocalists.

I still listen to pop music (or “Top 40”), as well as the stuff I grew up with. Over the last 10 years, I’ve started to listening to a lot of traditional jazz.

11. Are there any stories not told in media that you’d like to see represented?

I’d like to see stories about boys genuinely wanting relationships, and boys who have interests other than girls and sports. I’d also like to see the dads on “family” shows regain the competence they used to have.

12. How often do you think about gender roles and whether your life matches what others might expect from your gender?

I do research about gender roles, so there’s a way in which I think about them all the time. I’m not a typical guy and never have been. In part, that’s because I’m a nerd and always have been (Dungeons & Dragons, anyone?) and in part, it’s because I’ve never really been the kind of person to do something just because that’s what other people are doing or that’s what’s expected of me. 

13. What wisdom have you gained in life that you think other people would benefit from knowing?

It’s important to figure out what’s important to you, find a way to work toward that, and evaluate your progress. It’s also important to re-evaluate what’s important to you every few years.

One of the more challenging lessons has been to learn to ask for what I want. Asking doesn’t mean I’ll get it, but I think I get what I want more often if I ask than if I don’t. But I don’t want to come across as demanding, and I was raised to be humble and to not brag, so it’s still hard to ask.

Photo credit Ken Bennett, Wake Forest University

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